Whilst we are more than a week into the official coronavirus “crisis”, there appears to be no clear guidance on practical help for landlords having to check a tenant’s right to rent in the UK during the COVID-19 period.
Based on recent questions received from letting agents, here are a few thoughts from Brinda Granthrai in JPC’s Real Estate Team on some practice tips on how landlord and/or letting agents can carry out immigration checks for their new tenants.
How may landlords check visas during COVID-19?
Every landlord has a legal obligation to check the tenant’s right to rent in the UK even if they are not named in the tenancy agreement or there is no written tenancy. If no checks are done, the landlord is liable to an unlimited fine or prison sentence.
It is therefore important for landlord’s and/or letting against to check the following:
1. Check who will be using the property as their main home
2. Ask tenant(s) to scan and email you the visa and/or immigration documents.
3. Arrange video call with tenant and ask them to hold up the original document to the camera. You should look to see: -
- Document looks genuine and not tampered with
- Picture of person is same as person holding the document
- Date of birth on document should be credible and consistent with other documents provided by individual
- The document has not expired
Refer to the Home Office user guide to see acceptable documents: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/573057/6_1193_HO_NH_Right-to-Rent-Guidance.pdf
4. Keep a copy of the document and record the date you made the check. Mark in the record “adjusted check undertaken due to COVID-19 on [insert date]”.
How long do landlords have to carry out ID checks via video calls?
These are temporary arrangements and the Home Office will provide further guidance as and when these temporary measures are lifted.
What happens after COVID-19 temporary measures end?
Once the COVID-19 measures end, landlords must carry out retrospective checks (usual checks carried out before COVID-19) on tenants:
1. Where tenancy started on or after 30 March 2020
2. Requiring follow up right to rent check from 30 March 2020 - You must do a follow-up check to make sure your tenant can still rent property in the UK if there’s a time limit on their permission to stay.
The Home Office is giving landlords an 8-week grace period to carry out retrospective checks once COVID-19 temporary measures are lifted.
In the landlord’s records, this retrospective check should contain the wording
‘the individual’s tenancy commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to rent check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19.’ Both the initial and the retrospective check must be retained on the tenant’s file.
What happens if tenants do not have permission to rent?
If at any time the landlord finds out a tenant does not have the right to rent, the landlord must end the tenancy and report the tenant to the Home Office on the same day the landlord finds out.
What happens if the tenant says their documents are with the Home Office awaiting a decision?
You can carry out a Home Office right to rent check via the government website https://eforms.homeoffice.gov.uk/outreach/lcs-application.ofml or via the landlord’s telephone on 0300 069 9799. You will need the Home Office reference number from the tenant.
What happens if Landlords do not carry out the checks during COVID-19?
The Home Office states that landlords must continue to carry out checks and ensure they are compliant with the code of practice on illegal immigrants and private rented accommodation.
The temporary arrangements do not provide a statutory defence against a civil penalty for the duration of an individual’s tenancy.
What can tenants do if their visa is due to expire shortly?
All visas due to expire shortly will be automatically extended to 31 May 2020, if you cannot leave the UK because of travel restrictions or self-isolation for COVI-19, but you must let the Home Office know your circumstances.
You must complete an online form and the Home Office should send an acknowledgement.
Keep a copy of the email as proof and you can give it to the landlord.
NEED SOME ASSISTANCE WITH IMMIGRATION MATTERS?
If you do require any advice or assistance in dealing with the issues we have outlined above or more generally please contact Brinda Granthrai by email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her on LinkedIn.